Recently I had a few hours to kill in San Francisco, California and found myself near the Yerba Buena Gardens. While searching for local attractions nearby, I chanced upon the Cartoon Art Museum. Located in a very unassuming building with a modest admission fee of $8.00, the museum appeared fairly ordinary, and at the first glance, sort of boring, even though it was described as “the only museum in the US dedicated to the preservation and exhibition of all forms of cartoon art”. However, once inside, I started looking at each cartoon exhibit carefully, and ended up spending an entertaining hour in there, all by myself.
There were cartoons from various eras, from the 19th century to present times. The most entertaining were political cartoons, especially from the second world war, post-war era and the cold war era. It is amazing how potentially inflammatory material is presented in these cartoons, which stated in any other manner would be completely unacceptable and probably banned in print. Therein lies the beauty of cartoons: the ability to present controversial issues using exaggerated, caricature-like strokes, while keeping the message short and somewhat enigmatic, such that readers can interpret it from their perspective.
Also interesting were satirical jabs targeting different sections of the society: women (of course, most cartoonists seem to be men), teenagers, Russians (in the cold war era) etc. Then there were cartoons documenting important world events such as the Neil Armstrong’s landing on the moon, subjects that would appear to be unlikely fodder for satire. Since the museum was basically built by an endowment from Charles Schultz (creator of Peanuts), there was a whole section dedicated to these cartoons.
The museum transported me back in to a forgotten era; when I lived in India and never missed the daily cartoon by RK Laxman featuring the “common man”. I still remember the somewhat harried, middle-aged balding man with exuberant facial hair who was perpetually caught in the whirlwind of national affairs. I think that was the only political cartoon I ever followed.
Cartoon Art Museum: at the entrance (above); and 2 cartoons from the museum (below)